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UNICEF urgently responds to Haiti cholera outbreak

2010-10-21

The outbreak, which has so far killed 135 people and sickened about 1,504 people, has been linked to a nearby contaminated river called Artibonite.  An estimated 150,000 people live in the affected areas along this river. UNICEF’s Chief of Health, Dr Jean-Claude Mubalama, says the origin of the outbreak remains unknown and is being investigated by the World Health Organization and the US Center for Disease Control.

Reported symptoms include severe and profuse diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pains. “Children under the age of five are especially vulnerable to cholera because they get dehydrated more quickly, that is why it is so crucial to get them to hospitals rapidly and this has been a challenge,” says Dr Mubalama. Local health authorities say the deaths typically occur within 3 to 4 hours of the symptoms, particularly at community levels.

“The problem is that often times, local affected populations are unfamiliar with this disease and therefore they do not reach hospitals in time,” explains Dr Mubalama, adding that this is the first time the disease has appeared in Haiti for over a century.

UNICEF quickly dispatched specialized water and sanitation, health, and logistics teams to help efforts on the ground. In order to help manage and contain the spread of the outbreak, UNICEF teams are conducting assessments and advising on patient isolation and management of treatment as well as training of the local staff who are unfamiliar with this disease. Along with its partners, UNICEF’s water and sanitation teams have been coordinating assessments to develop action plans in chlorinating wells and intensifying hand washing with soap promotions.

UNICEF and its partners have also been distributing vital supplies such as Oral Rehydration Salts, IVF, antibiotics and water purification chemicals. Six UNICEF trucks left Port-au-Prince yesterday, carrying additional emergency disease outbreak supplies to complement existing pre-positioned stocks. The trucks’ load included 2,500 Adult Hygiene Kits (each serving 5 people), thousands of bars of soap and buckets, 50,000 water purification tablets, 25,000 plastic mats and 5 tents to support health centres that are struggling to cope with over-capacity because of the influx of patients.

Meanwhile, steps are being taken to ensure the disease does not spread further. There are fears the outbreak could reach the heavily populated camps of earthquake survivors around Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. UNICEF is getting ready to circulate prevention messages to help raise awareness. Information and communication is crucial to rapidly and effectively stop the spread of the disease. 

About UNICEF 
UNICEF is the world's leading child-focused humanitarian and development agency. Through innovative programs and advocacy work, we save children's lives and secure their rights in virtually every country. Our global reach, unparalleled influence on policymakers, and diverse partnerships make us an instrumental force in shaping a world in which no child dies of a preventable cause.  UNICEF is entirely supported by voluntary donations and helps all children, regardless of race, religion or politics. For more information about UNICEF, please visit www.unicef.ca.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.